Mar 3, 2008

Serious about sports supports

Paul Sherratt of McDavid explains why retailers should stock these high-margin products

What product category suffers from virtually no clearance, is not particularly seasonal, carries some of the best product margins in the sports trade and takes up little space in-store?

The answer is sports support. So why is it that so few sports retailers take this category seriously?

Many areas of our industry take the lead from the US; if this were the case in sports supports, our approach to this category would be very different. In the US the product line often takes up a 4-5m bay in the sports multiple environment and even at independent level the space allocated is substantially more than is currently offered by most UK sports retailers.

With a 72 per cent market share in this category, McDavid knows better than anyone the potential opportunity that is there for the retailer. Sports supports are predominantly a distressed purchase - a consumer comes into the store with a problem and he/she is looking for an immediate solution.

The category is not subject to the same product research that a consumer might undertake when purchasing, say, a television, as they just require a solution so that they can get back on the pitch, relieve their pain or simply get on with life. So why would any retailer stock the cheapest sports support on the market? It doesn’t make sense.

If I want a knee support and the one for sale is £5.99 I will almost certainly purchase it. If I am told it is £7.99, I will almost certainly purchase it. I doubt very much that I would bother to shop around for an alternative because either there probably isn’t another retailer in town that stocks supports or I just want to solve my injury problem. So as a retailer stocking the slightly higher priced item, I have just put an additional £2 in my till.

The fastest growing accounts for sports supports in the UK are online. Why? It’s not because, as is often the case in other sectors, they heavily discount. It is simply because they are selling products that are hard to find on the high street because independent sport retailers do not give them the presence.

So if that’s the case, surely there is a strong argument for an independent retailer to embrace this product opportunity, communicate with their local clubs and associations (as they do with other product lines) and create links with local physios to tell their customer base that they can provide the solutions for them and that they do not have to go online.

Without doubt, the most successful way to retail sports supports is from a point of sale display. Whether it’s a small self-shipping unit or a larger 1m display, the result is that the consumer finds it easier to make a choice and the resultant sales are higher than if you were just paying lip service to the category.

At McDavid we offer simple self-selection from the packaging by displaying not only what injury the support helps, but also what level of support you will receive - generally, the more sophisticated the product the higher the price point and the more support and performance you will receive from the product.

Secondly, using a POS display makes it easier for the retailer to stock check and see immediately which lines are low on stock and need topping up.

Now you have your display in place, you may like to think about seasonal promotions.
I mentioned earlier that seasonality does not have a major effect on the sports support business. However, there are key times when a little focus will allow you to further enhance your business.

At particular times of the year why not make certain products more prominent or change the product mix slightly? In the summer months items such as tennis elbow supports are top-sellers, whilst in the winter more sophisticated knee braces appeal to the skiing market or thigh, shoulder and ankle supports have a pick-up from team sports such as football and rugby.

With all this activity and the distressed purchase element, the most important factor to keep in mind is that you should not need to discount, and thus your intake margin should be the same as your achieved margin - how many other sports categories can boast that?


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